What it means to be a female leader in the tech sector

Krishna Subramanian sits down with Business Chief to discuss the progress she has seen over the past 30 years when it comes to equality in technology

Early in her career, when she was raising venture capital in the late-1990s, an advisor recommended to Krishna Subramanian that she should raise her voice and act aggressively when delivering a pitch, so that investors would take her seriously. 

The advice was given in good faith by someone concerned that the men in the room would not know how to evaluate Subramanian’s leadership capabilities – unless she conformed to what might be perceived as “normal” behaviour.

However, over time, she has found this method of doing business to be counterproductive. 

“It’s better to be authentic, play to your strengths and highlight your core values, rather than trying to conform to male-centric stereotypes of effective leadership,” says Subramanian.

“If you are an aggressive, outspoken person by nature, then use those skills to your advantage in meetings. If you are more soft-spoken or introverted, you can still be an excellent leader without brandishing your sword.

“I am passionate about what I do, and my success has been due to the people who recognise that passion and commitment.”

Forging a path in technology

Subramanian began her professional career with Sun Microsystems, working as a Senior Engineer and a Product Lead working on Java Studio. 

Following a four-year stint as CEO of Kovair, which she helped progress from concept to a 65-person company with Fortune 1,000 customers, Subramanian returned to Sun Microsystems until its acquisition by Oracle in 2010.

She then spent periods with Kaviza and the cloud computing giant, Citrix, before establishing software developer Komprise in 2015, where she remains as COO and President. 

While acknowledging that women in tech – herself included – have made significant strides over the past couple of decades, with many more entering development and engineering roles in the software community, Subramanian says there is plenty of work still to be done. 

“Often, women feel like pioneers who need to prove themselves and are judged using male stereotypes of leadership behaviour,” she continues. 

“We are still establishing our brand of leadership, which is often more collaborative and open to diplomacy. It’s taking longer to create our mark than we’d like, considering that this is 2023.”

Nevertheless, Subramanian is keen to celebrate the progress that has been made across the diversity spectrum, including gender, race, ethnicity, cultures and age. 

“This evolution in the workforce has resulted in greater openness to leadership that does not conform to traditional stereotypes,” she adds. “We can see that in the number of Indian-born leaders in high-tech companies and the greater number of women in leadership and board-level positions.”

Women in tech need better support 

While women looking to make their way in tech can clearly blaze their own trails, their fortunes are also in the hands of leaders, management figures and recruiters. 

More than 50% of graduates with technical degrees are female, so hiring more women actually makes good business sense while also promoting gender equality. 

Subramanian believes organisations must work harder to create a culture that encourages participation from everyone, rewards different forms of communication and gives everyone equal opportunities to progress in their careers – regardless of gender.

She says: “Having strong female role models in leadership positions, especially in technical and engineering leadership, is extremely helpful. These women are paving the way for younger women entering the workforce and can be valuable mentors as well. 

“A female perspective at the top also delivers unique value to product development and strategy due to having proclivity for inclusiveness and equity.”

Asked what advice she would give to women looking to progress their own careers in tech, Subramanian emphasises the importance of gaining experience. 

“Figure out what you are truly passionate about and what your strengths are by taking on different roles early in your career, including at internships during college,” she concludes.

“Seek out opportunities where you can leverage your strengths and take on difficult projects or tasks where you can showcase your achievements.”


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